Preserving the real places and the real stories of Texas.

Real Places 2019: Silent No More

Expanding The African American Narrative Through Archeology And 19th-Century Public Records

Breakout 1C

Day/Time: Thursday, January 17, 9:30–10:45 a.m.
Location: Capitol Salon A, 3rd Floor
Speakers: Shannon Smith and Hal Simon-Hassell, Texas Historical Commission; Samuel Collins, III, Historian

The lives and experiences of minority and underrepresented populations are often difficult to document through written records. However, through archeology, archival research, and a cross-referencing of public records, an amazing amount of detail can sometimes be discovered, thus helping historic places tell a more inclusive story of events and people.

At Levi Jordan Plantation State Historic Site in Brazoria, important clues about the lives of enslaved individuals are being recovered through archeology. Nearby, at Varner-Hogg Plantation State Historic Site in West Columbia, tantalizing glimpses of the names, familial relationships, occupations, and medical visits of enslaved workers are available through probate records. This information, cross-referenced with post-emancipation voter registration, property tax, and census records, combine to trace the lives of many individual’s past enslavement into the developing freedmen’s community.


Shannon Smith is assistant site director at Varner-Hogg Plantation, Levi Jordan Plantation, and Sabine Pass Battleground State Historic Sites. After receiving her degree in Anthropology from Texas Tech University, she worked as a professional archeologist for eight years on both prehistoric and historic sites, including Levi Jordan Plantation. During this time, she began to concentrate on historic and plantation studies that merge archeology with preservation and public engagement.


As chief interpretive specialist for the Texas Historical Commission’s Historic Sites Division, Hal Simon-Hassell oversees interpretive planning and exhibit development for 22 state historic sites across the state. He is the former executive director of the Heritage Farmstead Museum in Plano and was the chief curator of Dallas Heritage Village from 1994 until 2007. He has a bachelor’s degree in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin, with a specialization in 19th-century material culture. Simon-Hassell has served on the board of directors of the Association of Living History, Farm and Agriculture Museums and as chair of several professional interest groups. He is the former chair of the A.W. Perry Homestead Museum in Carrollton and founding member of the City of Carrollton’s Historic Preservation Advisory Commission.


Samuel Collins, III has been providing financial services in Galveston County for more than 18 years, in addition to being heavily involved in historic preservation. He serves on several boards, including the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Bryan Museum’s Delegados Associate Board, Rosenberg Trustee, and the Ruby Bridges Foundation. He has previously served on the boards of the Galveston Historical Foundation, Old Central Cultural Center, NIA Cultural Center, Galveston Chamber of Commerce, Galveston Economic Development Partnership, Texas Historical Commission’s State Board of Review, and Texas A&M Lettermen's Association. In 2015, Collins was awarded the Galveston County Citizen of the Year by the Galveston Daily Newspaper, and he was recognized by the same newspaper as an unsung hero in 2012.